Call it a false flag, call it a provocation. Whatever you want to call it, the drone that hit the Kremlin in an "assassination attempt" against Russian President Vladimir Putin came at a highly destabilizing moment.
On Wednesday, drones hit the Kremlin, the official Moscow residence of the Russian president, in what Russia described as an attempt to kill Putin that was planned by U.S. forces and carried out by the Ukrainian military, according to CBS News.
Now, how much you believe anything coming out of the Kremlin about what hit the Kremlin is another matter entirely. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has denied responsibility and has said the country has only acted to defend its territory, although CBS noted "there has been evidence over the last week that they're also stepping up attacks, using drones, on Russian infrastructure, both in occupied territory and across the border inside Russia."
However, consider the fact it's well known that Putin doesn't really live in the Kremlin complex most of the time (as The New York Times reported, he was at his "sprawling compound" in a Moscow suburb at the time of the alleged attack).
Nor, as The Hill noted, was there any independent verification that the drones that Russian security forces allegedly shot down over the Kremlin were Ukrainian; the Turkish drones their military usually uses can only travel about 150 miles, less than half the distance needed if it was launched from inside Ukraine.
KREMLIN DRONE ATTACK
- Russia says two Ukrainian drones attacked Kremlin overnight
- Drones downed with no victims or material damage to the Kremlin
- Moscow says it was a terrorist attack and attempt on Putin's life
- Russia says it reserves right to respond when and how it… pic.twitter.com/loZA6c3Fvd
— The Spectator Index (@spectatorindex) May 3, 2023
"It's all really simple — Russia has no victories," Zelenskyy said.
"He [Putin] can't further motivate his society, he can't send his soldiers into death anymore, and he can't motivate his country anymore … now he needs to find any possibility to motivate them."
However, if there's a time to motivate them, it's now -- especially since the attack came just six days before Russia celebrates Victory Day, the May 9 anniversary of Russia's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.
Before the attack, six Russian regions already scrapped their plans for Victory Day parades, the U.K. Guardian reported Tuesday.
“There won’t be a parade in order to not provoke the enemy with large numbers of equipment and service members in central Belgorod,” Belgograd head Vyacheslav Gladkov said last month.
Thus, the attack -- wherever it might have come from -- could be used both to beef up Victory Day parades and to use them as a demonstration of bravery in the face of potential air strikes. Alternatively, Putin could use the recent drone attack to get more conscripts into the Russian military.
Or, perhaps something more sinister could be brewing; on Thursday, Russia attacked Ukrainian cities overnight, and one Fordham professor said she thought it could be used as a pretext to attack Zelenskyy himself.
“It looks to me like Putin and his handlers are constructing a fake provocation with this so-called terrorist attack that Russia can use as an excuse to rain down even more pain and suffering on the Ukrainian people or possibly use to justify an assassination attempt on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky,” Beth Knobel, a former CBS Moscow bureau chief, told The Hill.
She added that “Ukraine has nothing to gain by inflaming Russia further with an assassination attempt on President Putin."
However, political scientist Mark Galeotti, who authored "Putin's Wars: From Chechnya to Ukraine," said he didn't necessarily buy that theory, citing the embarrassment a drone attack on the Kremlin would cause the Kremlin itself.
Galeotti, writing in the U.K. Spectator, said that "Russia would be admitting to a shocking breach of security" by admitting Ukrainian forces could hit the Kremlin, noting that "Moscow is ringed by radar systems and air defense missiles.
"Furthermore, the Kremlin is notoriously protected by a GPS spoofing system that is the bane of drivers in the heart of the city, that tends to tell them that they are at Vnukovo airport, some 25km to the south-west.
"It may be that this will lead to the dismissal of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (who may breathe a sigh of relief). It is hard to believe that Putin is so desperate for political capital that he would be willing to pretend that his own air defence forces cannot stop drones from traveling the 450km-plus from the Ukrainian border and hitting the symbolic heart of the Russian state," he wrote.
As for the motive: "What the Ukrainians would have wanted to show is that Moscow is not safe, and to do so shortly before 9 May: Victory Day in the Russian canon. Already many Victory Day events have been canceled or scaled back because of security concerns."
“Most likely, this is just what it seems: that Kyiv, witnessing the continued attacks on its infrastructure, houses and hospitals, feels it has no reason to pull its punches."
However, Branislav Slantchev -- a political science professor at a University of California, San Diego -- said he didn't think this was a plausible explanation, noting that Russia's narrative is already that it's fighting a superior enemy: not Ukraine but the whole of NATO.
“It is not shameful to be hit by a superior enemy. And in fact, they didn’t achieve anything,” he told The Hill. “And so this is not humiliation for Russia in any way that I can see. Which is why I simply do not see an upside for the Ukrainians.”
Whatever the case, things could be getting very dicey around Victory Day -- and you can bet both Ukraine and her allies are preparing for the worst. So, too, may be the Russians.
Whether this leads to a significant escalation of hostilities remains a question of who was behind this in the first place and what their motives are, but there's nobody who could deny this is one of the tensest moments we've seen in over a year of intense fighting between the two nations.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.